The fundamental plot of Educating Rita is obvious and mundane; a young working class woman precluded from a formal education and cultural experience and eager for both meets an older, traditionally educated, middle class cynic wallowing in frustration at the awareness of his own inadequacies. But Willy Russell’s deft writing lifts that plot high above derivative cliché. Russell wrote this two-hander during the class mayhem of Margaret Thatcher’s first term as Prime Minister of Great Britain and at times it reads more like social therapy than social commentary. However, a tangle of dynamics emerges out of the rich, literary referenced text. Irony, comedy and the drama of personal change within each of these characters provides for a divergent range of audience perspectives to engage the unfolding themes and justify the 100 minutes running time.
Pamela Munt is not only the Producer of this play but also has a hand in the costumes, behind the bar, front of house and set design. I doubt The Bakehouse Theatre could remain as viable without Munt’s level of energy and professionalism. The set itself is a simple academic’s office but Andrew Zeuner and Phil Hart built it masterfully for this small theatre.
The cast and crew handle the many scene changes seamlessly. The lighting by Stephen Dean was generally excellent, however it did lag several times on the night but that should be ironed out in future performances.
Peter Green directs. He has been actively involved with this theatre since 1998 and understands the space and how to use it. His direction is tight and effective, moving the actors around and across the stage with the changing dynamics of the script.
The two actors are a revelation. Together they are a perfect dichotomy for the vitality of the script. Roger Newcombe as Frank sits back and drives his role with the confidence and ease of a fully tenured lecturer. He is in total command of the characters changing emotions and delivers a performance of outstanding class. Ruth Fallon in the role of Rita is enthused and sassy. Fallon perfectly captures the vivacity of a young, working class woman and maintains the Liverpudlian accent with a faultless precision; in fact Fallon’s performance itself is faultless. Both actors convey the comedy and tragedy of their roles so expertly they elicit a palpably visceral response from the audience.
The third star of the show is the script. This is no re-write of Pygmalion. What Russell has written is timeless. Russell stated he wrote Educating Rita because he “wanted to make a play which engaged and was relevant to those who considered themselves uneducated, those whose daily language is not the language of the university or the theatre”. In that context the synergy of The Bakehouse Theatre Company, putting on this play is particularly apt as The Bakehouse is a venue where more alternative theatrical companies along with nascent playwrights and actors often meet established artists and Adelaide’s middle class, albeit not always for the common good (even though the intent is always there). Thankfully, this production of Educating Rita does succeed for its audience and exceptionally so.